Archive for the ‘What Clients Want’ Category

Dear Danielle: What Is the Best Approach to Physically Obtain Quality Clients?

Dear Danielle: What Is the Best Approach to Physically Obtain Quality Clients?

Dear Danielle:

I am very new to the Administrative Consulting business although I have almost 20 years of experience supporting senior-level executives. I agree with you that we are so much more than “virtual assistants” and I would like to attract customers who understand that and value what we bring to the table, if you will. Therefore, my question to you is now that I’ve created a website and all other social media accounts, what is the best approach to physically obtain quality clients? Eventually, I may narrow my target but for now, my target is Small Business Owners. Thank you. —ND

Hi, ND. Welcome and thanks for reaching out. 🙂

Sounds like you’ve got the perfect background and a solid body of experience to offer clients. Wonderful!

Of course, there’s much more to business than simply knowing how to support clients and do the work, as you realize.

Learning how to run, manage and market a business and get actual clients (much less good ones) is a whole other skillset and area of education in and of itself.

This is why your question is more of a training one, rather than something that can be answered in a simple blog post.

It requires a more in-depth, systematic process of learning to understand the components, dynamics, and psychology involved.

To get that kind of knowledge and learning, I will refer you to my step-by-step self-paced training guide I created specifically for that purpose: How to Build a Website that WORKS!

This guide is centered around your website because your website IS the critical link in connecting your marketing and networking to actually getting clients, and not just any clients, but the kind of clients you want to reach: quality clients who understand your value.

This involves pre-educating your site visitors so they are in the right mindset, setting the right expectations, and prequalifying clients to help ensure you are productively spending your time in consultation with your most ideal and likely client candidates.

In the process of going through the steps and exercises, my guide also gives you a crash-course in inbound marketing because the two go hand-in-hand. You can’t set up an effective website and conversion system that gets results unless you understand all the components and mechanics involved.

Another thing I show you how to do in my guide is how to articulate your value and write your marketing message (and I have a clever system that helps you do that, no writing talent required; couldn’t be easier).

This is where having a target market is absolutely vital.

If there are any “secrets” in business and getting clients (and there aren’t), this is it.

And that’s because it’s not so much a “secret” as it is an area of misunderstanding and resistance for so many people.

You mention that right now your target is “small business owners.” But that isn’t a target at all, you see.

“Small business owners” is merely a demographic, and a very vague, general one at that which isn’t going to be helpful to you in any meaningful way whatsoever in creating a compelling marketing message and getting those ideal clients who value what you do.

It’s like saying “people” are your target market. That’s literally anyone and everyone in the world — which is the opposite of a target market (which by definition is a specific market).

A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. That’s it. However, it’s a vitally important component in getting those quality, ideal clients who understand your value that you wish for.

And this is where people struggle because they resist the idea that they actually expand their attractiveness and opportunities if they narrow their focus to one specific group.

Because here’s the thing: you can’t articulate your value in any truly meaningful, compelling way until you know who it is you are providing that value to. And that requires you to decide what industry/field/profession that will be.

Because it’s all relative.

Your value — what you provide, the solutions you offer, how you deliver those solutions and the results you create — all depends on who your audience (i.e., target market) is: who they are, what their commons interests, needs, challenges and goals are, what work they do in their profession, how their businesses are run, who their clients are, how they get those clients, and so much more.

You have to decide who it is you specifically intend to help in order to identify, understand and articulate your value in a way that speaks to these things as it relates to them. Otherwise, all you’ll ever accomplish (by trying to create a message for anyone and everyone) is being generic and forgettable.

To stand out, to create real meaning, to get focus and direction for your message and your marketing, you need specificity.

That specificity (i.e., deciding on a target market to cater your administrative support to) is what is not only going to get you more ideal clients who value what you do, it’s also going to make your business and marketing easier, you’ll have an easier time charging higher fees and making more money, and you’ll be able to get more clients more quickly and easily.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market.

Start there, decide on a target market and then get my marketing/website guide, and you’ll be well on your way to getting those ideal, quality clients who absolutely understand how valuable you can be to them.

Dear Danielle: Client Thinks He Shouldn’t Be Billed for Time on the Phone

Dear Danielle: Client Thinks He Shouldn’t Be Billed for Time on the Phone

Dear Danielle:

Do you bill your clients for time that you speak with them on the phone? I have a client who wants to have phone meetings twice a week. A phone meeting with him can run from 15 minutes to an hour. Yet, he feels that I should not bill for that time. Instead, I should only bill for the time that I am “actually doing work.” (His words…not mine.) —Anonymous by request

Warning, this may be a little ranty, lol

And just to be clear, it’s no way directed toward the person asking the question. I give them all the props in the world for having the courage to ask. That’s how we get help, by asking.

What gets my dander up is more about the ridiculous, ignorant information that continues to be spouted out by business morons that create this kind of thinking in clients and colleagues in the first place.

The idea that in this day and age people in our industry are still asking questions like this as if they need permission from anybody about what they’re allowed to do in their business tells me there’s still an insane amount of employee-mindset going on.

NEWSFLASH: Talking with clients IS part of the work.

When you talk with clients on the phone, that’s part of the service you’re providing to them. And you’re in business to be PAID for the service you provide.

You are expending business resources (your time) and that time comes at a cost to your business.

You are being a brainstorming partner and sounding board. You’re also presumably offering your own input, ideas, opinions, feedback and expertise in those conversations, which are aspects of the service and value your client is benefiting from.

So, um, yeah, you should be charging for that. And it’s not up to ANY client to dictate what you do or don’t charge for or how you charge. If he doesn’t want to pay for it, then he shouldn’t be given it. And if he doesn’t like that, he can go somewhere else.

Now, all that said, this question points out a few things that are going on in this person’s business that need to be addressed.

  1. This client sounds like he thinks you’re some kind of employee. That means YOU haven’t done a proper job of educating him before ever working together about the fact that you are an independent professional—ahem, a BUSINESS—providing a service and expertise, no different than if he were to hire an attorney or an accountant or a coach, etc. You have GOT to set your prospects and clients STRAIGHT about this right from the get-go (which means you have to get this straight first yourself). You are not an employee. Period. End of story. That’s not how business works. There is no such thing as a 1099 employee. When clients are operating under no delusions about this, they approach the relationship with a more appropriate professional demeanor and respect, and they expect to pay for services they are provided.
  2. You haven’t defined your policies and procedures and your boundaries and parameters thoroughly. This is really business planning 101, which makes me wonder if you’ve done any of that. If you haven’t, go back now and do that. It’s important if you want happy clients and a happy, profitable and long-lived business! How you bill; what you bill for; what is included in the service and what is not; how many phone calls a client is allowed each week; what time limit they get per call; whether or not phone calls are by appointment only and need to be scheduled or not; how regular communication is to be conducted (e.g., email only)… these are just some of the things you need to clarify in your business. And then put all that information in a Client Guide to be given to every new client at the start of the relationship. (By the way: Set-01 The Administrative Consultant Business Set-Up Success Kit in the ACA Success Store includes a New Client Welcome Kit guide and Client Guide template to help you get this sorted in your business.)
  3. The fact that this client is complaining about being charged for phone calls now tells me you did not properly inform him upfront, before working together, how things work in your business. Of course, when you haven’t set your policies and procedures in the first place, how can you inform them upfront, right? Which is why you have to get clear about them first (see #2). You want to eliminate any misunderstandings and surprises as much as possible because those all too frequently become relationship killers.

And while it’s not any client’s business to tell you how to run yours, this does point to several of the reasons I don’t advocate selling hours as a billing methodology:

  1. It puts your interests at odds with each other. You only make more money the more hours you charge, and clients don’t like what they view as being nickeled and dimed.
  2. If you work fast, you are penalized financially while clients are getting the value and benefit of that speed without paying for it.
  3. Everything becomes a transaction which becomes the focus instead of the results, goals and objectives that together you wish to achieve.

Learning how to price, package your support, and talk about fees with clients is an area of business education in and of itself—part art, part science. There is a way to make sure you are paid for the time and value of the service you provide to clients without using time as the measurement and without clients feeling like they are being nickeled and dimed.

I teach a methodology called Value-Based Pricing that unties your earning ability from the hands of the ticking clock, and brings you and the client’s interests back into alignment so you can begin working more truly together with the same goals, intentions and motivations.

The fantastic byproduct of this methodology is that clients never again complain about being charged for this or that because it’s all part of the package.

You can learn more about all that and get my Value-Based Pricing and Packaging self-study guide here >>. (Be sure and watch the video!)

If you have any questions about any of this, please post in the comments and I’m happy to keep the conversation going there.

Hope this helps! (And if you have your own question on a different topic for me, please feel free to submit it here.)

How Do You Overcome the “I Need a Person in the Office” Argument?

You don’t. 😉

You’re barking up the wrong tree.

That person wants and needs an employee. And that’s not what you are. You’re not a substitute employee.

Which is the second part of the problem. You are still thinking of yourself as—and trying to sell yourself in the context of being—an assistant.

Remember, when you are in business, for both legal and practical reasons, you are not anyone’s assistant.

I want to challenge you to think about what you do, what you are and what administrative support is, apart from and outside of the context of assistant.

When you do that, you realize that you are an independent professional (not an assistant) with a particular specialization and expertise to offer (administrative support) in the same way that an attorney is an expert in the law and an accountant is an expert in financial matters.

Once you raise your consciousness about that, you will begin to see and define your role differently, which will lead you to market differently, which will draw and attract an entirely different audience, one that’s not looking for temps or substitute employees, but an alternative to those things.

Marketing Isn’t About You

Marketing is not about you, it’s about your clients and prospects.

So if you are feeling like you are “bragging” too much, that’s a good sign you may be talking about yourself too much entirely.

Clients want to see their needs, interests, challenges, problems, pains and concerns reflected in your message and conversations.

They want to see that you get them, and in “getting” them, they feel that you have insight into how to solve those things for them.

Focus your marketing message not on you, but on what kind of difference you can and do make in your clients’ lives and businesses.

Which Category Do You Fall Into?

I was going through some old listserv messages the other day that I had saved for one reason or another and came across one where a Virtual Assistant was lamenting about possibly losing a client.

She had learned inadvertently that this client was seeking a new VA, and she was upset that she hadn’t been told about it directly.

She complained that she had bent over backward for this client, and the client hadn’t mentioned a word to her or given her any indication about being unhappy with her work.

While it is understandably upsetting when people aren’t upfront, I still couldn’t help but notice her poor writing skills.

She used the wrong spelling of certain words, didn’t punctuate her sentences properly, etc. It naturally made me wonder if this was any indication of her skill level and competence. Because if it was, it could explain the reason the client was seeking someone else.

Everything we do as administrative experts is a demonstration of our skill and competence (or lack of it, as the case may be).

Language and written communication skills are integral to everything we do. If you aren’t able to communicate clearly and coherently with clients in proper form, we can’t honestly be upset with them if that poor communication doesn’t inspire their confidence.

They want their work to be as professional as it can be. How can they trust that you can accomplish that if you don’t show them a command of the necessary language skills?

I don’t know if this was the case or not with this VA, but it did lead me to another thought… that there are basically two categories of people in our industry.

  1. There are those who take healthy pride in the administrative skills and talents they possess. They elevate their work to the level of craft, of art. They are able to apply abstract, critical thinking to not just do the work, but do it really, really well. Beautifully even.
  2. Then there are those who got into this industry because they heard it was a way to make some extra money. They sit passively waiting to be told what to do (sometimes even how to do it!), and are either unable or unwilling to exert any more effort or thought beyond the literal request.

Which category do you think provides more value for clients? Which creates more ease for them and inspires their trust and confidence?

Which do you fall into?

Creating a Communication Plan

Excellent communication (not good or okay, but GREAT) is vitally important in your business relationships, even more so when your mode of doing business is entirely virtual.

How well you communicate with prospects and clients directly impacts the trust and confidence you instill in them.

One aspect of beyond-excellent communication is consistently following through in your responses to emails and voicemails.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the occasional message or response that falls through the cracks; that happens to the best of us.

What I’m talking about is establishing consciously-devised standards and policies for handling communication your business.

This includes being in the habit of making sure those who correspond with you by email know that their message was received.

There is nothing more frustrating than sending someone a message and hearing nothing but crickets in response.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end, you know what I’m talking about.

You’re left wondering whether the recipient is taking whatever action might have been required, or if they even got the message at all.

This kind of poor communication is not only an instant trust-killer, it creates extra work for the folks trying to correspond and work with you.

It doesn’t put you in a good light and definitely doesn’t engender any confidence in your professional abilities.

Don’t do that to your clients and customers — or yourself, for that matter.

Here’s a quick checklist to improve your customer communications (and earn greater trust from your clients) today:

  1. Establish a timeliness standard in your business. Be disciplined about sticking with it. If you have a 24-48 hour turnaround policy, make sure you demonstrate a pattern of consistently responding to all messages within that timeframe.
  2. Inform clients and customers upfront. Include your communication policies in your new client welcome kits. Talk about it in your new client orientation meetings. If you are closed on weekends or holidays or any other particular days of the week, let clients and site visitors know that. Let them know exactly how communication is handled in your business, during what hours, and what the response turnaround policy is. When clients know how things work and what to expect ahead of time, they don’t worry and wonder so much in the meantime. It helps them relax and manages expectations.
  3. Create a management plan. Devise a system for keeping track of messages and following-up efficiently. Email programs and plugin these days have an extensive array of customizable tools and settings for organizing and prioritizing your inbox. Make good use of them.
  4. Respond to every message. Even if you can’t do anything right away, you should still acknowledge receipt of the message. A simple “Got it!” or “Thank you. I’ll let you know as soon as I take care of that” makes all the difference in the world to the person at the other end.

© Copyright by Danielle Keister for the Administrative Consultants Association. You are granted permission to republish this article only if used without alteration in its entirety with this copyright notice, title, article content, resource, and links left intact.

Dear Danielle: What About References?

Dear Danielle:

What do you think of prospective clients asking Administrative Consultants for references? –DE

I think when clients ask for references, they:

a) aren’t understanding the nature of the relationship, and/or

b) aren’t feeling the trust/competence/credibility that good demonstration of those things would give them.

Yes, we get irritated with some clients. Some clients are just looking for a free ride or intentionally trying to get what amounts to an under-the-table employee. I have no love for those types.

But other clients (I think probably the majority) are only misinformed because the industry at large is the one misinforming them and setting the wrong expectations.

I know we’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: the VA industry is still stuck in employee-mindset.

People, you have got to stop with all the references and comparisons to employees. All that is accomplishing is making clients think that you are some new kind of employee. Your job isn’t to replace employees. Some businesses and some workloads simply require an employee.

We, on the other hand, are business owners. As such, we should be representing a higher, more professional level of skill sets for clients who want greater expertise and who have administrative workloads that don’t require an employee.

You have to show and tell clients how to properly seek out a professional (not an employee). They don’t necessarily know how to do that. When the industry at large stops marketing like an employee and comparing itself to employees, those requests for references will go down considerably.

But here’s the other part of the issue… when clients ask for references, a lot of times it’s because they just aren’t getting what they need to trust that they’re hiring a pro, an administrative expert.

Where they get that is through your presentation of yourself and your business.

That means, you have to demonstrate skill, competence, legitimacy, credibility and qualification in all that you do… in the visual design and display of your website, in your marketing message, in your speaking and writing, everything.

Because when you do that, you are instilling in them the sense of those things. They don’t feel the need then to look or ask for additional “proof.”

So if you are getting lots of requests for references, it’s a signal that your presentation, your image, your message, etc., may not be up to snuff.

That’s a good time to go through all your content and marketing message and see where you might be losing them. You might even want to get the help of a pro to give you feedback on where you might be falling short and help beef things up.

As far as marketing goes, it’s always a great idea to have testimonials from current or former clients. Provide full names, pictures, urls and contact info if the client agrees to that.

Be sure and intentionally use and reinforce the term “testimonials” by the way. Very important. You want to steer clients away from confusing you in any way with an employee.

So if a client asks for references, you could say, “Oh, you mean testimonials? Of course!” and you can then steer them in the direction of the testimonials on your website.

The other thing you can do is have a more elaborate or in-depth sheet that you can provide to clients who are further along in your consultation process.

If they still want to talk to someone in person, all you need is one or two clients who are agreeable to giving out their contact info and then save that info only for the most serious of prospects.

Remember, the last thing you want to do is inconvenience any of your past or current clients with constant phone calls and emails from other would-be clients so dole that info out judiciously.

At the same time, I will tell you that if you are meeting all the other tests of credibility and demonstration of skill and competence in everything else you do, requests for further references and “proof” are going to be little to none.

In over 12 years of business, I cannot remember a time that I have ever been asked for references.

Dear Danielle: Is Certification Necessary to Start an Administrative Support Business?

Dear Danielle:

I have wanted to start my own administrative support business for a while now. I’ve been with the same large corporation for 12 years, some of that time spent in the Medical Law department, as a human resources assistant and about six years as an executive assistant juggling multiple managers. Prior to that, I worked from a woman’s home as her assistant as she ran her own company bringing in over $400,000 gross per year. I have the experience, I have the drive and motivation; I learn quickly; I’m resourceful; I am able to work independently and have a record of excellent customer service and problem solving skills.  I am concerned that not having a certificate from a college may hinder client selection. From your experience, are degree-less virtual ssistants making a living out there? Do you know of a legitimate online Virtual Assistant certification? —CR

Fabulous! You’ve state just about everything you need to start an administrative support business: experience, drive, resourcefulness, ability to learn quickly and excellent customer service and problem-solving skills.

The only other requirement is going to be excellent business sense. Because running a business and doing the work and taking care of clients are two completely different things.

I’ve written extensively on the subject of certification. You do not need anyone’s piece of paper to “certify” that you have the administrative expertise to offer your services.

I say this as someone who has been in this business for nearly 15 years and never once been asked by a single client ever about certification.

Most of the certification programs in our industry are a joke. I’ve even had colleagues go through some of these programs where the administrators themselves can’t spell, litter their correspondence with typos, and get their own exams wrong.

Plus, there’s a proliferation of opportunists and exploiters out there who are just using these programs as personal sales vehicles. They’ll certify anyone willing to pay.

Save your money.

There is only one thing you need to prove to clients and that is done by simply demonstrating your qualifications, competence and service in all that you do.

Your site, your messages, your writing and articles… every bit of it is an example of your skills, expertise and professionalism.

When you demonstrate a professional level of expertise and competence, no one is going to ask you about certification. Those questions only come when prospective clients don’t see those things exampled on your website, your business image, your content and your communications.

When you DO demonstrate those things in all those places, you instill credibility and trust. They don’t need to ask because they already get that sense of your competence through all your displays of marketing, presentation and interaction.

No piece of paper will prove those things. And any certification you get becomes meaningless if you don’t demonstrate on a daily basis, in everything you do, the qualities that the certification is supposed to “prove.”

Here are some other posts I’ve written on the topic of certification and demonstrating competence:

Are You Trying Too Hard?
Demonstrate Your Competence
Dear Danielle: What Can You Tell Me About Credentialing?

 

It sounds like you’ve got all the qualifications and experience you need to open an administrative support business and offer a professional level of skill and service. Learning to be a good businessperson may take some additional skills and education, if you don’t have those already.

Don’t bother with certification, though. Just become a good student of business.

Read business books. Find business mentors (like me). Ask lots of questions.

If you do take some kind of course, I recommend those on business management and marketing, not a certification course.

Good luck to you and thanks for the great question. We need more highly skilled and competent people like you in our field. 🙂

A Great Lesson in Adding Value

You may remember my blog post from April 9 on Taking the Marketing & Referral Bull by the Horns.

In that post, I shared a great example of a service provider “asking for the business,” and how you could likewise follow-up and ask for referrals in your own administrative support business.

My client and I had such a great experience working with this service provider. He presented a very professional image. He was polished and business-like,  conducting all his interactions with us very professionally. And once the job was fully completed, he asked us for our feedback and referrals, which we were very happy to give.

Being in Washington, we don’t have much need for process service in Minnesota. We’ll definitely pass this fellow’s name around to those who might be able to use his services, but truth be told, those opportunities to do so will in all likelihood be very limited.

I’m sure he realizes this as well. And yet today, he offered another great example that Administrative Consultants can take a cue from.

I received an email from Brian, this service provider. He hoped we were doing well over here on the west coast and let me know that through his networking, he came across a process server in Tacoma that he wanted to recommend to us. He made it clear that he hadn’t actually worked with him, but his communication with this fellow was impressive enough that he wanted to send his contact info our way.

Why does this simple, unassuming email have such an impact?

Because in an industry that is rife with unprofessionalism, unbusinesslike operations and fly-by-nights, it offers a stellar example of how to nurture relationships, deliver fantastic customer service and provide added, personable value.

Brian is no dummy. He realizes that as out-of-state customers it not likely we’ll work together again any time soon. But he clearly understands networking and building relationships.

He knows that in a highly commoditized industry like process service, it’s the relationships he nurtures and the value he provides that get the word out about his company and have it standing heads and tails above the rest.

Administrative Consultants will do well to heed this example. ;)

Taking the Marketing and Referral Bull by the Horns

In my own practice, I had a wonderful experience recently working with an out-of-state vendor.

One of my clients needed to serve a lawsuit we’re handling in another state and I needed to find a process server for the job.

The service wasn’t entirely straightforward, but the process server handled everything in stride and followed up very diligently and with great attention to detail.

Once completed, he sent his invoice which we promptly paid.

Afterward, we got a very nice message from him thanking us for the business and speedy payment. He went on to ask us this:

“I was wondering if you would please spread my contact information around to others in the profession who might need service done in Minnesota. Also, if you have a chance, would you be so kind as to write a review/referral that I could post on my website and/or my marketing materials.”

I was more than happy to oblige him and sent him a fabulous testimonial.

Why am I sharing this with you?

Because it’s such a fantastic example of taking the bull by the horns and asking for what you want or need in business.

The way he worded his request was perfect in its simplicity, sincerity and directness.

Administrative Consultants can and should be doing the same thing in their businesses.

Here are some pointers to help you do that:

  1. First, make sure your loves the work and service. No one is going to recommend you to others if this isn’t the case (and asking for their referral in this event will be even more off-putting) so be sure to elicit feedback and make sure they are happy and satisfied before asking anything of them.
  2. Don’t ask for referrals/testimonials/recommendations prematurely. Again, this can be very offputting. If the work is project-based, don’t ask in the middle of things. Wait until it is fully completed and your client is happy before asking. If the client is one you work with continuously (such as on a retained basis), make it part of your process to elicit feedback and testimonials at least every six months.
  3. Ask for what you want, just like this business owner did. On a regular basis and at the end of every project, ask clients for their recommendations and to spread the word about your service. You act proactively on behalf of clients; do the same for yourself!
  4. Make it as easy for clients to refer you. This fellow’s request made it very clear who we should refer (“anyone needing process service in  Minnesota.”). The more you have your target market specifically defined, the easier and more frequently folks will refer to you and spread the word.

Now go get those referrals and recommendations!